Towering sounds

"We wanted to create a space in the museum for the sounds of the Tower of David."

tower of david 88 (photo credit: )
tower of david 88
(photo credit: )
As Katyushas bombard us just a few hours away, Jerusalem at night offers a different reality. In a new musical installation, Soundscapes, The Tower of David Museum succeeds in capturing a uniquely Jerusalem vibe through a blend of music and visual art in the citadel courtyard. Unusual musical instruments - designed by the Roth-Tevet Design Studio and scattered throughout the courtyard - play automatically in what becomes a form of technologically-assisted concert. Visitors are invited to walk up and down the staircases of the courtyard, watching as the strange instruments are highlighted by stage lighting. As in a regular concert, a spotlight appears on an instrument just as it begins its musical performance and fades as it stops playing. The pieces of musical equipment are the high-tech cousins of instruments common to the Old City. A giant wood harp reaching three meters high recalls Kind David. But with its 29 mechanical fingers activated by electro magnetic sensors, it also reminds the viewer of a more contemporary era. The glass bell tree, consisting of 70 delicate Hebron glass bells that play as a single instrument, toll just like Jerusalem's famed church bells, but are pre-programmed to sound on demand. Likewise, the collection of hand drums, darbouka (Arabic drum) and 4-story towers of steel drums play without direct human intervention as 33 robotic arms beat the drums in rhythm. These instruments without musicians, visually stunning in their blend of the old and the new, create an eerie atmosphere. The courtyard takes on something of a haunted feeling. As two sets of drums combine for a percussive duet and then, without warning, the bells chime in, the effect is paradoxically both calming and a little alarming. Even the music itself is not entirely a product of human innovation. Musician Didi Fire has developed a computer program that integrates the artist's decisions with a computer logic system. So the sounds, like the visual aspects, are part traditional, part technology. Liat Margalit, curator of Soundscapes, is happy with the mix of old and new. "Our original concept was just in dream form. We wanted to create a space in the museum for the sounds of the Tower of David," she says. It was designer Yaal Tevet who then conceived of the instruments which would play on their own. Margalit points out that she is particularly happy with the way Tevet made use of the wide courtyard area to highlight different musical pieces. The slight spookiness of the performance may be just the thing to attract children and young people. Kids will enjoy exploring the grounds and discovering the way the instruments work. Their parents and older siblings might prefer the general beauty of the place. A quick climb to the highest point of the museum takes the whole family to what is arguably the most amazing view of Jerusalem, providing an unusual view of Temple Mount, especially on clear evenings. The Tower of David Museum is open during the Soundscapes performance. So, when you need a break from sound and light, you can duck in and learn about the history of Jerusalem. While the museum's permanent exhibit is not particularly new or groundbreaking, it is full of lovely images and some cute audio-visual features, presenting Jerusalem from a multicultural perspective from the Canaanite period to the modern era, and is rather child-friendly. According to Caroline Shapiro, director of international public relations for the museum, rather than presenting a simple testimony, the exhibit aims to illustrate history. So you won't find many artifacts. Models and visual aids tell the story instead. But perhaps the best way to tell Jerusalem's story is though the creative use of sound, as in the current night-time exhibit. Margalit tells of a family who traveled from northern Israel to take a break from the violence and see the freshly opened production. "They said that these [the Soundscapes sounds] are `different sounds' than the ones they hear in the North," Margalit recounts. Throughout August there will also be family activities including workshops and story time. A cantorial concert will take place in the courtyard on August 17. The exhibition, which opened formally on August 7, is expected to continue for several months. Soundscapes will be open to the public on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 19:00 to 23:00 and also Saturday evenings, after Shabbat. Admission for adults is NIS 40, NIS 30 for students and NIS 20 for children and pensioners. Residents of northern Israel receive a 50 per cent reduction in the price of admission. English guided tours of the permanent exhibit are available everyday. For more information call 02-626-5333 or visit